And if I were Hanson or Levin or Steyn I’d be devoting a little less time to ritual denunciations of heretics and RINOs, and at least a little more time to figuring out how to build the sort of ship that will make the rats of the DC/NY corridor want to scramble back on board, however much it makes you sick to have them back.

In fairness to the denouncers, there is a certain satisfaction in the knowledge, or at least the assumption, that you have held out despite everything and remained on board the ship to the very last.  I have had plenty to say against party loyalty, but there is a kind of mad integrity in the reflexive partisan who will back his party no matter how sorry or ridiculous the candidates and no matter how vapid the message.  It doesn’t make any sense, but then it’s not supposed to make sense.  Of course Ross is right that conservatives should be more interested in making converts than finding heretics.  The bit about finding heretics rather than making converts used to be the accusation conservatives hurled against the left, and it was always something of an exaggeration (there has long been something of a fortress mentality among conservatives that lets you forget that two-fifths of the public even now identify by that label), but now it has been completely reversed.  Perhaps this is simply what happens as coalitions fragment and political alignments are in flux, but it seems to me that this is not inevitable. 

For a long time, conservatives have been blinded by optimism, and I think many of them began to expect success to follow success.  In the future, many of his former supporters may look back at Bush’s re-election and see it as the greatest disaster to befall their cause in a generation, and not simply because he presided over so many debacles in his second term but because his winning re-election taught them to expect victory when there was no good reason to expect it.  In their expectation of success, conservatives have tended to become complacent, to congratulate one another and to preach to the crowd–this is the cocoon effect Ross has criticized before–and to react with bewilderment and disbelief to any setbacks.  Many conservatives have mistaken optimism, which masks weakness, for confidence, which reflects strength.  In politics as in everything else, confidence is attractive, while the arrogant presumption that comes from optimism commands deference only so long as you and your allies wield power.  Once you are dethroned, you cannot command much respect at all.  I think this is why the Republican ticket seems particularly sad this time around, because the nominees practice the sort of bluffing and blustering that once carried the field and now just seem exhausted.

What is instructive about all this is what it tells us about loyalty.  For the denouncers, loyalism ultimately seems to mean keeping your mouth shut, ignoring reality and not breaking ranks.  In another era, these would be the legitimists who would have defended the rights of an imbecile heir rather than a competent claimant on the throne.  What we see is that it is not loyalty that is being defended, but rather conformity.  The loyalist is bound by devotion, and the conformist by fear, usually fear of an enemy or opponent.  We see the former when people rally to a monarch or leader they genuinely admire, and we see the latter in support for a dictator as the lesser of two evils.